Women Are Disciples Too!
Sometimes people read through the New Testament, noticing the many references to men, and assume that women where not very much involved in the life of the body of Christ. They notice that Christ chose only men to be His apostles (Matt. 10:2-3). They learn that only men could be elders or over-seers of the assembly (1 Tim. 3:1-2) and men took the lead in making decisions (Acts 1:16; 15:7,13). They read that women are to be silent in the assembly (1 Cor. 14:33-37) and are not permitted to teach over the man (1 Tim. 2:11-15). From this evidence, many men and women alike conclude that women had little to do in serving the Lord in the body of Christ.
This conclusion, however, is far from accurate. As we read through the new covenant writings, we notice that women were very much involved in the day-to-day life of the body and the work of the Lord. Earlier we wrote a short article entitled, “The Women Followers of Jesus,” in which we examined how important women were in the life of Christ. Let us focus especially on the remainder of the New Testament with special interest in Christian women.
Women Equal in Salvation Blessings
We must remember that women are included with men in the general sections of Scripture which speak of those blessings that are ours through Christ. For instance, Paul writes, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). To whom does the term “we” refer? Obviously, it refers to every Christian, irrespective of gender. Later Paul writes, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Who are “in Christ Jesus”? Clearly, this refers to every man and woman to has responded to Christ in faith and been baptized into Him (Rom. 6:3-11). Again, Paul writes, “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). The “we” and the “us” refer to women just as much as men. All believers conquer through Christ!
Paul makes it clear in one passage that women are equal with men in their enjoyment of spiritual blessings in Christ. In Galatians 3, the apostle points out that the promise of God is received by faith rather than through law-keeping. The Law simply led the Jews to Christ that they might be declared righteous by faith (Gal. 3:19-25). Paul writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (vv. 26-27). All believers–male and female alike–are “sons of God” and have been “baptized into Christ.” Although it may seem that only the males are here noted, because of the reference to “sons” of God, the context makes it clear that Paul is using an illustration that includes females, sisters in the family of God. The “sons of God” are Christians who have been adopted into His family and enjoy the full inheritance rights belonging to His children (see 4:1-7).
Paul continues, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). Some feminists, of course, have pulled this verse from its context, asserting that women are free to participate in everything that men participate in while serving God. The verse, however, refers to the fact that all persons are one in Christ–regardless of ethnic distinctions, social distinctions, and gender distinctions. It speaks of an equality of union with Christ Jesus and being heirs of God’s promise.
As we read through Scripture, therefore, we must remember that women are just as much included in God’s rich spiritual blessings as are men. They are full recipients of God’s salvation gifts in Christ Jesus.
Women Equal in Responsibilities
Christian women are likewise responsible to believe and obey the instructions of God that are recorded in the New Testament letters. Although they may not always be singled out for special attention, they must submit themselves to the general teachings of Scripture. This is also true of men. Usually men are not directly addressed in the apostolic letters any more than women are. The instructions are given to Christians in general.
Illustrations of this abound. Paul writes, “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9b). Surely this is a responsibility of women. He writes, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (v. 15). Women are responsible to obey the apostle here just as men are. Again he writes, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (13:14). Christian women must heed the apostle’s command just as men must. Dozens of times in Scripture women are commanded to obey the instructions of the Lord just as men are.
Sometimes, of course, men are addressed and instructed to do this or that (cf. 1 Cor. 16:13), but even in most of these places women are not excused. Paul writes, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Although Paul addresses the brothers (adelphoi), he surely has all believers at Corinth in mind in his instruction. Thus, when women read of references to the “brothers,” generally they should remember that the apostle is giving instruction to them as well (cf. 1 Cor. 8:12; 10:1; 11:33; 12:1; 15:58).
It is also helpful to keep in mind that some of the places where “man” is found in our English translations, the original has anthropos, the generic term for “mankind” in general. Vine points out that generally this Greek term refers to “a human being, male or female, without reference to sex or nationality” (The Expanded Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 704). For instance, Jesus says, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Every person–both male and female–must live by God’s words. This use of “man” or “men” is found repeatedly in Scripture and women are just as much included in the passages as are men (e.g., Matt. 5:13,16; 12:35; John 2:25; 1 Tim. 6:16). Actually, some more modern translations employ “one” or similar terms to convey the thought and to prevent misunderstanding.
On occasion, Scripture does make a distinction between the male and the female. For instance, Paul says that the “men” (andras) are “in every place to pray” (1 Tim. 2:8). But even in this passage that limits public prayers to the men, there is something for the women. Just as the men must lift up “holy hands, without wrath and dissension,” so women must have the same pure disposition in their prayers. Conversely, although women (gunaikas) are given specific instruction on modest clothing (1 Tim. 2:9-10), men also may learn something about the way they should dress by reading this passage.
We acknowledge that some instruction is gender-specific. It is given either to the husband or to the wife, to the man or to the woman (see 1 Tim. 2:11-15; 3:1-8; 5:14; Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6, 7; 1 Cor. 11:2-16; 14:33-36). These passages must be obeyed by the man or the woman, as the case may be.
Sometimes, when instruction is given to either the man or the woman, similar instruction is given immediately to the other gender. Thus, Paul writes, “Because of immoralities, let each man has his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2). Again, “Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (v. 3).
We must remember, therefore, that women are largely responsible for the vast amount of New Testament instruction just as men are.
Prominence of Women in the New Testament
When we look at the Jewish culture of the first century, we may be surprised to learn that women were considered inferior and had almost no public place in society. Those who wish to study into this aspect of life in Palestine will discover that many women, after marriage, were to stay at home and have few dealings with the opposite sex. Even in the synagogue, they were segregated and must not be seen.
Jesus seemed to freely interact with women, although with purity and reserve. You will remember that women were part of the “inner circle” who accompanied Jesus and his disciples from city to city, and they helped to support them (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:41). They were with Jesus at His crucifixion and saw Him after His resurrection–even before His own apostles (cf. Mark 15:40-41,47; 16:1-6; Matt. 28:1-10; John 20:1-18).
The Lord seemed to easily relate to women during his ministry. He accepted Martha’s hospitality and personally taught her sister, Mary (Luke 10:38-42). John informs us that “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus” (John 11:5). We know that this was a pure and holy love, yet it is significant that Jesus did have a personal relationship with these two women, along with their brother, Lazarus.
Jesus could even relate to an immoral woman whom he met at the village well and discussed spiritual things with her (John 4:5-27). On one occasion, the Lord allowed another questionable woman to “wet His feet with her tears,” wipe “them with the hair of her head,” and kiss “His feet,” anointing them with perfume (Luke 10:37-38; cf. vv. 39-50). While His host must have disapproved of this action, Jesus freely accepted her expression of repentance and love (v. 47). Before His death, Jesus also allowed Mary of Bethany to anoint his head with perfume (Mark 14:3-9; Matt. 26:6-13) and anoint His feet, wiping them with her hair (John 12:1-8). We simply cite these examples to show that Jesus violated the extreme restrictions of the Jews and seemed to have open contact with women, yet with dignity and purity.
Women had an important place in the early community of saints. On the day of Pentecost, Peter cited the prophecy of Joel, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . . Even upon My bondslaves, both men and women I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). In keeping with this passage, women did become prophetesses in the first century assembly (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5), and could speak to others “for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3).
Women were involved in other activities in the body of Christ. Some suggest that the women mentioned by Paul in 1 Timothy 5 may have occupied a special place of service, although this is supposition. These women who were at least sixty years of age could be “put on the list” if they met certain qualifications (vv. 9-10). Others suggest that women may have been considered special “servants” of the assembly, with certain qualifications (1 Tim. 3:11), but this again is somewhat speculative.
Luke records an incident in the town of Joppa that gives us a glimpse of one sister’s activity for the Lord. This woman’s name was Tabitha, and we know her as Dorcas. The record says that she “was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did” (Acts 9:36). This dear woman died and the disciples called for Peter who was in nearby Lydda. When the apostle arrived, “all the wodows” stood beside him weeping, and showed him the tunics and garments that Dorcas made while she was alive. Sending everyone out of the room, Peter raised Dorcas to life through the power of the Lord, and “presented her alive” to the saints and widows (vv. 39-40). We notice the active involvement of this dear sister and Peter’s interest in her continued work for the Lord.
Paul refers to Euodia and Syntyche of Philippi as “women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel” (Phil. 4:2-3). The NIV has this rendering: “. . . these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel.” Whatever the precise nature of their work, they apparently shared the good news of Christ as fellow-laborers with Paul himself.
It is good to remember that many of the New Testament directives for women show her involved in domestic duties (e.g., 1 Tim. 5:9-10, 14; Titus 2:4-5), yet other passages do show that women were to interact with others, teach others, and share the gospel with others. Priscilla is a case in point. She is mentioned with her husband, Aquila, a number of times, and on one occasion she helped to teach the eloquent Apollos. Luke says, “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him [Apollos], they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). The wording indicates that she had a part in instructing this preacher into the way of God.
One avenue of service that women seemed to find particularly in keeping with their abilities was that of opening their homes to others. Like the Shunammite woman who provided a place for the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-11), sisters in the New Testament also provided their homes for others. We have already mentioned Martha who welcomed Jesus into her home (Luke 10:38). The book of Acts mentions “the house of Mary” (Mark’s mother) in Jerusalem, where “many were gathered together and were praying” (12:12). A woman is particularly suited to blessing others with her hospitality.
In Philippi, Paul and his companions went to a place of prayer and spoke to “the women who had assemblied” (16:13). It is interesting that only women are mentioned in the context. Since a quorem of ten Jewish men were needed for a synagogue, according to tradition, this may indicate that only women could be found in this Roman colony. One of the women was Lydia, “a worshiper of God,” who responded to Paul’s words and immediately was baptized, along with her “household” (perhaps children or servants) (v. 15a). The significant point is that after she turned to the Lord, Lydia said, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay” (v. 15b). Luke says, “She prevailed upon us” (v. 15c). This sister’s immediate response was to open her house in hospitality to the four male preachers (Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke).
Net us notice one further woman whom Paul knew from another city. Paul writes, “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the assembly that is in her house” (Col. 4:15). There is a question whether the original had “Nymphas” (a man) or “Nympha” (a woman), but the evidence suggests the latter. If so, this sister hosted the saints in Laodicea, a work uniquely suited to a woman.
Women were Paul’s Fellow-Laborers
One of the most fruitful studies we can make in discovering the importance of women in the New Testament is taken from Romans 16. Here Paul makes reference to numerous women of his own acquaintance. Let us notice who they are.
Paul begins by referring to Phoebe, “a servant of the assembly which is at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1). He also says that “she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well” (v. 2). There is much we would like to know about this sister, but we do know that she was a “servant” (the term here is diakonon) and a “helper.” Some point out that she may have been a “deaconess” but the term diakonos is usually used in a general sense in Scripture. Whatever the case may be, Phoebe was involved in the Lord’s service and traveled as far as Rome, from Cenchrea (near Corinth), in her labors.
Next, Paul writes of “Prisca [Priscilla] and Aquila” (v. 3). This husband and wife continually gave themselves to the Lord’s work and often became the host and hostess for the meetings of the believers where they resided. Paul writes that the Romans should greet “the assembly that is in their house” (v. 5; cf. 1 Cor. 16:19). We might also notice that these believers “risked their own necks” for the sake of Paul (v. 4). Sisters in Christ were called upon to sacrifice themselves for the Lord as well as men.
The apostle then mentions other women whom he knew at Rome. We might remember that Paul had not been to the capital city yet, thus the ones he knew in Rome must have been known by Paul from other places. Women were active in traveling in the first century. Paul says, “Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you” (Rom. 16:6). We may not know how she “worked hard” but this testimony to her involvement in the Lord’s work is noteworthy. He says to “greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles” (v. 7). There is a possibility that instead of “Junias” (male), we should read “Junia” (female). If so, this sister was close enough to Paul to be called a “kinsman.” Further, she must have been imprisoned for the cause of Christ.
Paul continues by writing, “Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord” (Rom. 16:12). How we would like to know more about these sisters, but we do know that they were “workers” in Christ. In verse 15, Paul mentions “Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.” Although we do not know more about these brothers and sisters, or the saints who met with them, we can see that women were included along with men in Paul’s greetings.
Women are Disciples of Christ
In our efforts to show the fallacies of the feminist movement, even within so-called evangelicals circles, we must not overlook the vital place that women had in the early community of Christ. We have seen that Jesus our Lord held women in high esteem and freely related to them in His ministry. We have also seen that women were prominent among the first believers. Both Acts and the letters testify to this importance.
On the one hand, we must refuse to acquiesce to the cultural relativists who would promote an unscriptural egalitarianism in Christianity. On the other hand, we must not take a position that would be more akin to radical Islam that sees women as inferior. We must strive to have a holy balance that is guided by the revelation of God.
Let us see the place and importance of women in the work of the Lord. Let us encourage sisters in Christ to become involved in everything for which their gifts have prepared them. Let us appreciate them and commend them for their position as wife and mother, and their multiple areas of service for Christ and His body. Let us commend them for walking in the truth, even as John commended those to whom he wrote: “The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth” (2 John 1; cf. v. 5). Let us view our believing sisters as fellow-heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7b) and fellow partakers of the promise of God (Gal. 3:28-29).